"overlapping Earths along whose linking axis a person can somehow move"
August 10, 2021 8:36 AM   Subscribe

In 1977 at a science fiction convention in Metz, France, Philip K. Dick delivered a lecture about his concept of orthogonal time titled "If You Find This World Bad You Should See Some of the Others". The audience was described as leaving the auditorium looking like they'd been hit with a hammer. The event was filmed, and you can see the whole thing complete with French interpretation (except for a sentence or two at the end) or a version with the translator cut out (and missing a bit of the intro). Or you can read the longer, unexpurgated essay online. On an episode of their podcast Weird Studies, J. F. Martel and Phil Ford put the lecture in context of Dick's life, and larger currents of thought. Finally, a comparatively normal interview with Dick was filmed in Metz (transcript here).
posted by Kattullus (27 comments total) 90 users marked this as a favorite
Incidentally, the audience members shown on the recording all would make for excellent reaction gifs, here's an example
posted by Kattullus at 8:57 AM on August 10, 2021 [4 favorites]

It's my favourite piece of his (the published version: I had no idea the lecture itself had been recorded for posterity) - I look forward to watching it!
posted by misteraitch at 9:49 AM on August 10, 2021 [3 favorites]

this is cool, but i need the text (also one of my favorites) to meaningfully follow this.
posted by 20 year lurk at 11:24 AM on August 10, 2021

Roger Zelazny did something similar in his "Amber" novels. The shadow worlds remained similar to Amber but with increasingly larger differences as you got farther (in Dick's orthogonal sense) from Amber's reality.
posted by CheeseDigestsAll at 12:01 PM on August 10, 2021 [3 favorites]

And Pratchett/Baxter's Long Earth and Charles Stross's Merchant Princes ....
posted by mbo at 12:05 PM on August 10, 2021 [7 favorites]

i find some resonance in the rivalry of the "rhetors" and the "incantors" in influencing the "world track" in "hemn space" depicted in, and significant to the plot of, neal stephenson's anathem, another favorite.
posted by 20 year lurk at 12:19 PM on August 10, 2021 [3 favorites]

mbo: waves

(And apropos nothing, the last Merchant Princes/Empire Games book, Invisible Sun, is finally coming out on September 30th! Four years late is better than never ...)
posted by cstross at 12:30 PM on August 10, 2021 [15 favorites]

Dick's speech also features prominently in a new documentary called A Glitch in the Matrix, which explores the concept of simulation theory. I just watched it last night and was considering making an FPP about it!
posted by chara at 1:00 PM on August 10, 2021 [5 favorites]

cstross: thanks - waiting with baited breath - just reread the last one in anticipation
posted by mbo at 1:10 PM on August 10, 2021 [2 favorites]

Hoping against hope Lobsang shows up in Invisible Sun somehow
posted by dmd at 3:44 PM on August 10, 2021 [1 favorite]

"...such alterations, the creation or selection of such so-called 'alternate presents,' is continually taking place. The very fact that we can conceptually deal with this notion -- that is, entertain it as an idea -- is a first step in discerning such processes themselves. But I doubt if we will ever be able in any real fashion to demonstrate, to scientifically prove, that such lateral change processes do occur. Probably all we would have to go on would be vestiges of memory, fleeting impressions, dreams, nebulous intuitions that somehow things had been different in some way -- and not long ago but now. We might reflexively reach for a light switch in the bathroom only to discover that it was -- always had been -- in another place entirely. We might reach for the air vent in our car where there was no air vent -- a reflex left over from a previous present, still active at a subcortical level. We might dream of people and places we had never seen as vividly as if we had seen them, actually known them. But we would not know what to make of this, assuming we took time to ponder it at all."
Then again, USB-A plugs.
posted by ardgedee at 3:49 PM on August 10, 2021 [8 favorites]

Pretty sure USB-A plugs are just a Schrodinger's cat/buttered toast thing
posted by mbo at 3:55 PM on August 10, 2021 [1 favorite]

This is neat. I'm glad to have read it. Thanks! I'm also absolutely not convinced any of it is true or even coherent.

That a many-worlds theory is possible, I'll buy. That it's interesting to think about is undeniable. That it somehow requires a "programmer" or has a relationship to humans taking sodium pentothal requires a level of arrogance that is really hard to take seriously if one considers the scale of the universe.
posted by eotvos at 4:27 PM on August 10, 2021 [3 favorites]

He is was daring to share his sense of things with us all. Nice that he found a publisher.
posted by Oyéah at 4:27 PM on August 10, 2021 [1 favorite]

His descriptions of lateral worlds reminded me of fractals. Breaking out of the pattern to change is the trick, or running a slightly different one, over, and over and over...
posted by Oyéah at 4:29 PM on August 10, 2021 [1 favorite]

This makes me excited for more sophisticated research into psychedelics. As I heard his description before he got to mention the sodium pentothal experience, I was reminded of many similar descriptions from users of things like DMT, LSD, Ketamine, even salvia.
posted by shenkerism at 4:41 PM on August 10, 2021

So this explains the whole Berenstein Bears thing right?
posted by any portmanteau in a storm at 5:52 PM on August 10, 2021 [3 favorites]

posted by clavdivs at 6:45 PM on August 10, 2021

Ketamine is like watching 1000 scenerio jumps all melding, bridging from image to image, like a thin wire dragging one through the minds cubby hole. There's some bump there. One main side effect to ketamine as an anesthetic is the patient wakes to...like a 10000 RAM of imagery jambed into the 16mm filmstrip upon waking, creating unwanted side effects. So mix in some benzos during surgery and the waking state is easier. Though the doctor told me I was technically awake the whole time anyways.
posted by clavdivs at 8:48 PM on August 10, 2021 [3 favorites]

"After reading the works of Plato and pondering the possibilities of metaphysical realms, he came to the conclusion that, in a certain sense, the world is not entirely real and there is no way to confirm whether it is truly there."

I have a delighted "Believer Weakness" for these psychedelic creative thinkers, reality tinkerers. Hunter S Thompson, John C Lilly, Tomothy Leary, Richard Alpert, all of 'em who threw the fifites, right out the window and went for it. The poets Ginzberg, the artists Georgia O'Keefe, all of them who brightened up the sordid depression era they were born in. We would not be where we are in some of the most positive ways we are, if not for them. Anyway. tbough I have only read The Penultimate Truth, I love the film adaptations of his novels and stories. A couple of weeks ago I was contemplating a binge read of his work. He went significantly against the grain of ordinary.
posted by Oyéah at 8:49 PM on August 10, 2021 [3 favorites]

I have had these occasional shifts in where I think things are, or of familiar places being the same yet utterly different - (sometimes permanently, sometimes only for a day) or of unfamiliar places seeming vaguely remembered my whole life and never felt the need to ascribe it to anything other than a quirk in the way brains work...a set of neural weights change, some thresholds shift, and the cascades through the cortex subsequently have a different shape.

Ascribing it to anything grander seems absurdly egocentric.

And, it seems quite in line with Hawkins' reference frame theory. If our brain builds many different reference frames for the same locations/concepts, and they "vote", a shift in which are more dominant might be experienced in this way.
posted by lastobelus at 9:32 PM on August 10, 2021

Well, this essay explains why I've liked PKD for decades--I find comfort in knowing someone else is on my side of the mirror.

My memories go back for over 70 years, to when I was barely able to walk. I remember being frustrated by not having enough of a vocabulary to say something. I have specific memories of minutiae, such as when I learned what the word "impossible" meant. My life has been episodic, like links in a chain, each link different from the others. Despite myself, I remain me, an identity that's endured from one episode to the next.

I kept daybooks and journals for over forty years. I hardly ever look back through them, though lately, I am revisiting some of them. My memories are like pages of narrative divided into chapters, but the pages are not numbered and not filed sequentially. When I examine certain journals, I discover that some of my "memories" never happened to me but rather to someone else. Also, I read things in the journals that I don't remember to have happened, and I can see things between the lines that, though they affected me dramatically, I dared not write them down. I have an unsettling sense of "otherness" about the young man (and not-so-young man) who wrote those lines. My writings were crude and primitive, but they were more than evocative to me, they invoked sounds and smells and textures, by sorrow and rage and fatigue, or elation.

I never thought PKD was a particularly engaging writer, except his ideas always nagged at me long after I finished one of his stories. Under the patina of his paranoia was some thread of reality that whispered to me: they are out there. I can meditate and enter a sort of dream state where I watch scenes populated by people I don't know doing things I've never done in places I've never been. These scenes come to me unbidden. Sometimes, they are so vivid that I am surprised when the meditative state evaporates and my present version of reality reestablishes itself. The transition is cloaked in a moment of confusion, wherein the door (for example) seems to be on the wrong side of the room.

I once developed a hypothetical notion that our universe was a static thing, comprising myriad paths where everything resided. Time and space were created to form this universe and did not exist except within its boundary. When "observed" outside its boundary, this universe is static. Time is a stylus used by all things material to express entropy, one of this universe's features. Unfortunately, we are time-bound and cannot perceive this (Trafamadorian) feature.

Well, anyhow, thanks, Phil. I have electric dreams, but I know now that it's not your fault. It's theirs. May you rest in peace.
posted by mule98J at 7:50 AM on August 11, 2021 [12 favorites]

Why on earth are we contemplating alternate realities? What possesses this monkey brain to question the molecular composition of a chair (or its material presence)? Why am I not a deer, or a fungus? This is the great value of authors like PKD and similar.. questions that expand our world/s. And perhaps their contribution to a strange madness also.. who is to say these thoughts are contributing to anything, really? It looks like the world is burning and our monkey brains have only ensured our destruction? I won't google it but surely there's an analogy long in use that all this thought activity amounts to a brief burning light and all it does is consume us.
posted by elkevelvet at 9:20 AM on August 11, 2021 [3 favorites]

"comparatively normal"

posted by johnabbe at 10:15 AM on August 11, 2021 [1 favorite]

u/gammaAmmonite recently asked on r/scifi, "When did traveling to Alternate Timelines become a scifi trope?" Charlie Stross gets the wrong answer for first example ever, which anyway seems to me different from when it became a trope.
posted by johnabbe at 10:18 AM on August 11, 2021

Charlie Stross gets the wrong answer for first example ever, which anyway seems to me different from when it became a trope.
Interesting. I'd be curious to hear more. Is Hale's Hands Off a better choice? (I don't know that or The Gunpowder God at all.)
posted by eotvos at 8:21 AM on August 12, 2021

> Charlie Stross gets the wrong answer for first example ever, which anyway seems to me different from when it became a trope.

I'm not sure I'd call it wrong. "When did it become a trope?" is a different question from "When is the first instance of?", since there has to be some degree of general popularity in order for something to be a trope; alternate timelines appeared in stories decades before the salient aspects became reduced to a readily identifiable formula. I haven't read much H. Beam Piper so I don't know whether his stories were the tipping point but the period in which they were published corresponds to around when alternate timelines became common enough in SF and fantasy to be recognized as a trope, so as far as I'm concerned cstross' answer is as good as anyone's.
posted by ardgedee at 5:49 AM on August 14, 2021

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